Penn in Kenya, Day 9


A FilmAid student talks about her interests and ambitions during a workshop taught by teaching assistants Jean Lee and Melissa Skolnick-Noguera.

Saturday, July 15th

Post by Laurel Jaffe, Class of 2020, a Cinema and Media Studies and Women’s Studies double major, from New Canaan, Conn. 

Today started off like how any school day would have begun. We feasted on a breakfast of eggs, sausages, and bread with jam and then packed up our backpacks and were off in vans to the local Kalobeyei school. However, unlike our typical school day, today many of us got to teach the FilmAid students about our areas of expertise and knowledge. We were given the reigns of the classroom and spent the day diving into different film and media topics. The presentations were incredibly useful not only to the FilmAid students but also to the rest of our group, as we each learned about some of our members’ areas of interest. I have summed up some of the highlights from the presentations we heard from today so that everyone can learn a little bit about the topics.


Maddy got the ball rolling, starting off the class with an introduction to social media. The FilmAid students were very excited to learn more about how to network via social media and use it as a platform to promote their projects. Her main three points that I think can be useful for anyone using social media, were (1) to be consistent across all platforms of social media, (2) to schedule and organize one’s social media posts ahead of time in order to effectively reach the greatest number of people, and lastly, (3) to link all of your social media accounts, so that a post on one platform can be bumped up on another platform.


Next, Sonari and Michael presented on screen-writing, storytelling, and TV acting. They stressed the importance of making your stories unique to you and expressing who you are and what you are feeling. Sonari showed a trailer from a show he helped produce about Nigerian immigrants in America, and it was met with overwhelming engagement and amusement by the FilmAid students. It was so fascinating to watch how although these refugee students may not have understood each joke that was spoken in English, they were able to understand the storyline and connect to the comedic gestures. As the students had a range of academic focuses from journalism and screenwriting to film and photography, Sonari and Michael explained how the use of storytelling through words and images in any capacity could be used as a tool for social change.


Nicholas and Melisande taught an extremely intriguing presentation on sound and sound production. We all know that sound is important to a movie to make the experience enjoyable and to emphasize certain moments, emotions, and even silences. This being said, I don’t think I really ever appreciate just how vital sound production is to a film’s success until learning about it from both of them. Music has the ability to explain more than what is just seen in a film. Music and sounds are truly the silent heroes of all films, as they allow the viewer to subconsciously take in and enjoy the whole movie-watching experience.


Professor Decherney wowed the students with a hands-on presentation of virtual reality, where he let each and every student try out the VR goggle piece and video on his phone. Although PokemonGo and Snapchat filters are daily examples of augmented reality in our lives, the students had never before heard about either virtual or augmented reality and were engrossed by the technology’s ability to make the user feel like they are in a different location or even a different world. Unlike traditional film, VR is extremely interesting for the viewer is able to make defining choices that will alter his/her experience. A good VR film will have things happening on all sides of the 360 degree video, allowing the user to be constantly engaged and empowered to make definitive choices.


Although the FilmAid students were shy at first, by the end of the day, Melissa and Jean, our teaching assistants, were able to get the students to fully engage and contribute to the class discussions. To mix things up, Jean got everyone up on their feet doing body and voice warm up acting exercises. In explaining what makes a scene and the importance of individual usage of tactics, Jean created scenarios for the FilmAid students to act in as they learned about the different roles on a film set and the necessity for conflict but also on-spot resolution. She left the group with an inspiring message that even when the job or situation gets hard, remember one has a purpose and has to push through!


Melissa helped the students create portfolios, and she helped each of the students to write their own bios to use for work and their projects. As a journalist for social change, Melissa explained the importance of telling a story different than how one would see it in social media. She showed her past work examples how one can always find a positive outlook in even the most complex, complicated situations. Her optimistic view to always find the beauty and hope in the world is a stance I think the FilmAid students deeply connected with.


During my talks with many of the students I found it really incredible how even during this time of extreme political and social uncertainty in their lives, these students strive to gain higher education and master the arts as a way to become self-empowered truth-pursuers and storytellers. Everyone from FilmAid and Penn alike learned so much from these great presentations that helped us understand different aspects of the media and film industry and learn tangible tools to make effective positive changes in our own projects and lives.



One thought on “Penn in Kenya, Day 9

  1. Wow! You guys provided the students with a thorough introduction, and they must be excited to get started on their projects. I bet you’re also discovering that teaching is a wonderful way to better understand a topic and to hone your own expertise. Thanks for sharing your day.

    Liked by 1 person

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